Trade Secrets

An artist's trading cards reveal a creative spirit.

When artist Deborah Wire is hungry for inspiration, she doesn't have to look very far. She sees potential in the simplest of things: old scraps of fabric, colorful packaging, slivers of stone, even dragonfly wings.

Wire's home in Cordova is a testament to her creativity. Over the years, it's been lovingly filled with appliquéd wall hangings, quilts, and hooked rugs this former nurse has stitched by hand. Her latest venture is artist trading cards, small embellished cards she fashions and trades with other artists around the country. Wire takes pride in the fact that these items are never sold or mass-produced; instead they exist solely for the pleasure of creative expression.

Wire began exploring art soon after her son was born 15 years ago. Her knowledge of sewing led her to quilting, though she wasn't drawn to the neon bright colors many local stitchers used. Instead, a quilt show in Liberty, Missouri, turned her on to folk primitives. With its bold use of familiar imagery and natural fibers like wool and cotton, Wire was hooked.

"The primitive work is done by an untrained artist," she says. "I like the im-perfections. Folk art can have excellent workmanship, but it doesn't have to be perfect."

Quilting also appealed to Wire's "waste not, want not" mentality. She was raised in rural Louisiana by parents of modest means and learned early the importance of thrift. "I made my own clothes from the time I was 13 because my parents couldn't afford to shop at a department store," she says. Such economy taught Wire to appreciate the ephemera others toss, a trait that shines through in her work.

The trading cards got started in 2004, when the 51-year-old Wire would give them as an occasional gift. As her interest grew, so too did the circle of friends who wanted to participate. Now, nine artists interpret a theme each month, then draft their ideas on 2.5-by-3.5-inch cards (the size of a standard playing card) for trading. The final pieces can be as varied as the artists themselves. For an Asian theme, Wire assembled a beautifully rendered card made from origami paper, recycled packaging from China with intricate script, red stamps, and the black and white images of Chinese women. Wire collects vintage photographs, which she then photocopies and incorporates into her work.

Like her quilts, Wire's cards are often layered, using photos or wrapping paper as a background that's then embellished with vintage rhinestones, unusual buttons, ribbon, embroidery, and sometimes topped with an opaque sliver of mica. She's plucked other objects from nature as well — she recently harvested dragonfly wings from a dock at her family's lake house, drawn by their delicate beauty.

When you're doing art, she says, "you have to think outside the box."

Wire gathers monthly with several local fiber artists to ooh and ah over their latest creations. The Memphis group swaps first, with the remaining cards being traded among artists outside the region. Wire makes about 10 to 12 art cards each month. Some come together quickly, while others take up to a week to be completed, depending on the technique required. "Once you start working, inspiration floods you," she says. "My best work doesn't come first but the more I do, the better it becomes."

In the end, the recipients can rest assured they've received something truly one-of-a-kind.

"It's a piece of yourself," notes Wire. A montage of memories, and a trade worth making.

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